Monday, October 29, 2012

Hearty Home-cooked Veg Brunch in Hackney

Our host with the most, Richard Walker, beside the amazing spread of hearty food.
Brunch between my friend Richard, Tom and myself is nothing unusual. Except that it's usually for some Indian breakfast in Mysore, where we three met two years ago, studying yoga. Last Monday, Richard invited us over to his for a proper home-cooked brunch at his home in Hackney. And while the recipes, the ingredients, the attention and love with which the meal was made were all very different from having a dosa at Sri Durga Bhavan, one of the favorite "stand-up" (traditionally called so because there are no seats) breakfast spots, brunch took on the unique Mysore flavor, there was a lot of yoga talk and the eating/conversing ambled on through the afternoon.

Fresh from the oven:
Sourdough bread, chelsea buns with currants,
pastry with coconut. All delish!
Richard, creative and diligent (he patiently taught me to crochet) I knew, would take hosting brunch seriously. I didn't understand, however, the treat I was in for, until I walked through the door of Rich and Ed's flat, which felt like such a sanctuary from the gray autumn day. It was warm, smelling of fresh baked bread and pastries. The air was spiced with the chili and garlic, with which Rich had cooked the freshly cut kale, some from his own garden allotment, which you can see from his window.

On the menu: fresh baked sourdough, chelsea buns with black currants, coconut pastry, mashed-up butter beans swimming in olive oil and topped with toasted sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, kale in garlic and chili (I love anyone who will feed me kale in the morning!)

There were two bottles of preserved jelly: crab apple and rose-hip, also made and bottled by Richard. He also laid out some butter and cheese, probably the only food product he didn't make with his own two hands.

One of the best things about being in England/
Europe this summer is the kale.
And by looking at this picture,
maybe you can understand why.

Between Richard and Tom, who is a chef himself, I really enjoyed hearing food tips, though, admittedly, some were over my head. About the only really thing that properly registered was that Grapeseed oil was good for frying...

Like many of the food experiences I've been having lately, the brunch reminded me of a way of living/eating that I want to explore some more. Nothing beats fresh made food and greens grown next door.

Since our last meeting, Rich has made some amazing inspiring changes in his life. Quitting work that he was unhappy with, he's now switching gears towards his new passion, urban gardening.

He is also learning to live more simply, spending less, growing more of his own produce, producing as much of his own food, making his own clothes.

I've decided that I want to be like Richard when I grow up--whenever that might be! (Soon, I hope!) Grow my food, make my preserves. I'm not sure about making my own clothes, I might look a bit like a ragamuffin.


My round 1. I don't know how many I had in the end,
I lost count after the third cup of tea...
Richard giving Tom and I the tour of his urban garden.

I heart Kale!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Last of the Summer Fruits

The understated yet delectable conference pear...

Visiting England and Europe, I have enjoyed the fruits of the summer. Had some amazing doughnut peaches, figs and green melon in Spain. The most apple-y apples in Koln. The juiciest grapes in Romania. A bevy of wild blackberries off the side of the road in the Pyranees. And in England, I've picked raspberries off the bush and have never enjoyed pears more in my entire life. 

The clocks go back this weekend, marking the end of the summer. It will get darker earlier in these parts. And soon most of the fruits will be imports from warmer climes. Food-wise, I feel so utterly grateful to have had such a naturally sweet summer!

Blackberries, which I've seen nearly everywhere this summer.
This juicy lot picked from the side of the road in the Spanish Pyranees.

Raspberry picking early in the English summer. The sun is setting behind my take...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Girlfriends and Guilty Pleasures

Homemade drop scones pancakes that my uni friend Lisia whipped up after last
Saturday's practice at the Clapham Yoga Shala.  Pancakes topped with butter and
Creme de Marron (French almond paste) and lemon and a sprinkle of white sugar.

What is it about seeing fabulous favorite girlfriends that makes one crave sweet treats? Or is it just me and my particular set of friends?

A departure from the raw treats that I've been posting, I've been indulging on some sweetness with friends over tea and long long sessions of catching up, which reminds me about the key role food plays in our social interactions. We share, along with our stories, our victories and our heartbreaks, a love of food.

Since I've been in London, the days have been filled with sweet and warming comfort food, just like the friends I've been sharing them with. And on such days, I don't mind feeding my sweet-tooth, so long as I have good friends to share the guilt with.

Not vegan: drop scones in the pan with butter.
Recipe at

Lovely Lisia, a.k.a. domestic goddess...

Very English: Victoria Sponge baked by Lisia.
A slice of the sponge cake up close.

Five years since I've seen my Warwick University roommates...
The packaging of the Creme de Marron, Almond Paste that was on the pancakes...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Austrian Home(UN)cooking

Dehydrated veggie burgers made of sprouted quinuoa, nuts
and other raw goodies, fresh salad, raw ketchup,
cooked short grain brown rice and wild rice.

Everywhere around the world, I am meeting people who are eating differently. They are experimenting, researching, looking for new ways to nourish themselves. For Boris and Renee Georgiev, of Yogazentrum Ganesha in Vienna, it started with the birth of their daughter Kaiya, which inspired them to delve into the raw.

Breastfeeding mom, Renee thought carefully about what kind of nutrition she wanted to be passing on to Kaiya. So she started to eat more and more live, fresh food. With Kaiya in mind, going raw was very natural. 

On our last day in Vienna, Renee and Boris invited my friend James and I over to their home, treating us with a mostly raw meal. Fresh salad, veggie burgers (made of sprouted quinuoa, nuts and other goodies) that was dehydrated in a Sedona--my first encounter with the first class dehydrator. So far, I've only seen the Excalibur in use in Asia--paired with cooked brown and wild rice. Our hosts, I think, knew of our love for cooked grain.

Flax seed crackers (made with flax/linseed, salt, and water)
was made in a Sedona Dehydrator.
Renee also made some tasty linseed (or flax seed, they are one and the same) crackers via the Sedona. And fresh ketchup with the Vitamix blender. Anyone "raw" will have these two must-have kitchen items: a dehydrator and a Vitamix, which breaks down all sorts of food with its 4-horsepower engine.

After lunch, Renee whipped up some fresh almond milk with the Vitamix, which was just sublime mixed in with energizing bowls of Japanese matcha green tea. 

Our happy lunch party: James, Natalia, Mirka, Boris, Renee--
the days raw alchemist holding baby Kaiya.
With raw food you can't help but taste its goodness. You can feel its effects on the body almost immediately, feel how light and revitalizing it is.

Our final meal in Europe was evidence of fine hospitality: good food, great company--Slovakian Natalia and Mirka, also as lovely as Boris and Renee, joined our lunch party, and we were all on the same page, so to speak, starting the meal with Sanskrit meal prayer "bramha panam," which we all knew and could chant seamlessly in unison. And the meal was beautifully harmonic throughout.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Vegetarian Vienna: Vegirant

Trip to Austria would not be complete without this staple:
Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce.
For someone like myself, who associates vegetarianism with young, hip, stylish cafes and bistros (perhaps due to my own limited experience), the decor in Vegirant was somewhat jarring. In keeping with the name, old fashioned floral curtains, matching the peach and light wood tones of the establishment, intimate booth style seating that reminded me of old diners--but a subdued European version--seemed wholly in contrast with my concept of vegetarian restaurant. 
Yummy paprika soup was light but warmed the belly.
The restaurant, long established (since 1999) for its healthy vegetarian food, offers a set menu for each day of the week, along with an extensive array of a la carte dishes. The set menu comes with soup or appetizer, main course and dessert. 

The menu itself shows how the establishment understands the needs of the discerning eater. Vegan, Vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes are labeled meticulously.

The food was tasty and healthy, though, I would have to say perhaps not so sustaining for someone with a deep belly like myself. I really enjoy hearty food. We ate on a Thursday, the menu for which was paprika soup, zucchini and polenta, and apple strudel. 
Main course: zucchini, polenta with leek.
Started with the apple strudel, which was perfect for my first bite of Vienna. Been experimenting with taking sweets at the start of the meal, (Since sugar digests faster than other foods, eating it first means better digestion. When you eat sweets after the meal, the sweets ferment on top of the food that takes longer to digest) which our waitress seemed to be very impressed with. We even got a thumbs up from her.     

Währinger Straße 57, Vienna, Austria 1090

The adjoining bio shop, Natur & Reform, has all sorts of organic food and products:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fresh Veg at Vienna's Naschmarkt

Whilst on our whirlwind walking tour of the Austrian capital, we did manage a quick walk through the Naschmarkt, Vienna's largest and most fashionable open air market. Couldn't resist this beautiful stalks of chard and beetroot at one of the local stands, which helped sustained us for the weekend.

Though the Naschmarkt's prices reflect that it is catering more and more to the visiting tourists than the local populace, it's a real treat to walk through. There's a huge selection of food and lifestyle products. 

Sweet Treats, Simply Raw in Vienna

So there we were, walking in the stylish and historic streets of central Vienna, talking food. Raw food, to be specific. Renee and Boris, who were taking us on a walking tour, was sharing their new found love for raw eating inspired by the birth of their daughter Kaiya.

Raw Food seems to be popping up for me a lot lately. With friends in the Philippines. And throughout these months in England and Europe, I seem to keep on meeting people who are experimenting with this way of eating. Vienna was no exception.

So, we were talking Vitamix (a 4-horse power blender/green smoothie maker extraordinaire), dehydrators, sprouting quinuoa when we happened across a little market of goodies. Many booths were selling bio products such as various oils and beer. But one caught our eye right away: a dainty little booth selling a tasty selection of raw treats. Chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, chocolate, all raw.

Couldn't resist and brought home a box, all of which tasted not "strange" as the woman behind the counter accidentally said--I think due to language difficult--but subtly sweet and also wonderfully nuanced with lots of nutty flavor.

Chocolate chip cookies.

Raw cupcakes.
Eco-friendly packaging.

Here are snapshots of the rest of the market:

For the kids: pumpkin carving

Viennese Green

Matcha green tea latte.
Just a couple of days ago, our hosts from Vienna's Yogazentrum Ganesha, the beautiful Boris and Renee Georgiev, took me and my friend James on a walking tour of the city. What was to be a 2-hour excursion ended up being a 5-hour jaunt around the elegant center of Vienna, seeing many markets, beautiful old buildings and walking through a number of gardens. 

Traditional green tea. You could pick your own bowl at the counter.
We took a refreshing stop, however, at one hip little Japanese tea house, which was a sweet combination of tradition and modernity. The cafe was quite modern and so were the Japanese women manning the counter. The care, however, in the tea preparation were taken very seriously. Each bowl was wiped down, each serving hand whisked with the appropriate accoutrements.  

Matcha green tea is known to be a powerful antioxidant. And is ten times more potent than a serving of regular green tea. Among the benefits of drinking matcha green tea, it is thought to be a cancer preventer, good for anti-ageing, a detoxifier, and promotes weight loss. Goes to show that something this green is good for you!

Vegetarian Japanese rice treats wrapped in seaweed.

Hip Japanese Tea House in elegant European Vienna.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fresh from the Carpathian Cow

Two kinds of fresh cow's cheese made right in the village by
Irene's neighbor, where you can even meet the cows. The poached eggs too
are from the neighbors, the hens from which they hail roam around
freely in the yard. The bread was baked by a student, Silvio.

Freshly milked milk that was boiled then served.

Recently, in a yoga retreat with James Boag in the Carpathian mountains organized by Irene Zaarour, I had the simple and yet extraordinary pleasure of having fresh cheese, milk, and homemade yogurt that came from a cow I could have taken a brief walk to visit.

The cheese, hand made by Irene's neighbors in the village, were rennet-free (rennet is an enzyme from the stomach of cows that is used often in the production of cheese), making it vegetarian friendly. They tasted so lively. It had the flavor of freshness, if that makes any sense. 

The milk, straight from the cow's udders, was actually boiled at the house where we stayed, while the fresh eggs came from free-range chickens around the neighborhood. Everything tasted as it should. Eggs tasted like real eggs. Milk tasted like real milk.

One of the problems with the way we are eating today is how far removed we are from our food. It used to be that we knew where our food was coming from, the patch of garden the veg grew, the livestock from which the meat product came from. In older hunter-gatherer societies, human beings really interacted with their food sources. The relationship was sacred. 

These days, we've lost that connection as we shop in supermarkets that have such a myriad of products hailing from all over the world. In many ways, it's great. My love for quinuoa, for example, would only be possible thanks to this thing called globalization. Still, there are so many places, people, industries between the fresh source of the thing that we are eating and our own mouths. It's disconcerting. 

So, it makes a huge difference too when you know where your food is coming from. When you know it's made with love, it sanctifies eating as an act of love, which nourishes our bodies as well as our hearts.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nature's Cream: Artisinal Ice-Cream in Romania

Brasov, an old town tucked in the Transylvanian part of Romania
amidst the Carpathian Mountains, boasts of the best artisinal ice-cream
in the country, according to my friend Irene.
The sign points out how L Angely uses only natural ingredients, without preservatives, artificial flavors or colors. 
Cream of the crop: a great selection of REAL tasting ice-cream.

One of my most favorite food indulgence is ice-cream. I know, some people may not consider my love for ice-cream in keeping with healthy eating. And with commercial takes aerating, adding loads of sugar and using mostly ingredients that one wouldn't normally associate with wholesome eating, you can't really blame them.

So it's really encouraging to see that people are looking to make ice-cream as healthy as possible. Again, while in Romania, I was taken to a glacier, L. Angely, in the mountain town of Brasov, where I had ice-cream that was all natural, using no preservatives, and no artificial colors. I had a mint chocolate chip that wasn't radio-active green in color and coffee that tasted like a fresh brew! It was a wonderfully cool experience!

Brasov's Transalvanian Market

Local apples.
Fresh prunes.

You can tell a lot about a culture with the local market. A trip through Brasov, in Romania's Transylvania region, was a treat as we shopped for the weekend retreat up in the Carpathian mountains.  This market, near the train station, had loads of fresh produce, fruits, dried goods, butchers, and flowers. Just about everything, fresh and tasty. These are some of my favorite snap shots of the fruits and veg in season:

Fresh parsley and dill...

Veg bouquet.

Cute cucumbers.

Locally grown grapes fresh from the vine.

Fresh walnuts recently cracked from their shells.

Dried herbs that made their way on to our diner table.

Of course, the characters you meet at the market, make the experience more colorful! Here some of the colorful Romanian folks:

My friends Irene, our guide, and James selecting the menu for the weekend.

Tomato lady asked me to take her to my country.

Mushroom lady.

The leek man.

The winner for most interesting pumpkins.